(By Sophia Bashir, Sep. 13 ) The ‘Great Green Wall’ was planned to be a 9 mile wide streak of trees, running through the 11 countries that touch the Southern border of the Sahara’s Sahel desert. In some countries, namely Senegal and Burkina Faso, planting has already begun, says Elvis Paul Tangam, the African Union Commissioner who is heading the project.
If completed, the wall will stretch 4,400 miles from Dakar in the east to Djibouti in the west.The project was first conceptualised in the early fifties, but has taken over 6 decades to finally take root.
Richard St Barbe Baker, a British environmental scientist, first proposed the idea of planting trees along the southernmost border of the Sahara. He hoped to stop wind and sand blowing into the countries meridional of the desert while improving soil quality and preventing erosion.
Desertification, which a United Nations (UN) spokesperson called “the greatest environmental challenge of our time” in 2007, is thought to have impacted on over 40 per cent of the land in some countries.
For sub-Saharan Africa this is especially a problem: a vast majority of the rural population, over 80 per cent, rely on agricultural work for their income. Effects are wide reaching and devastating. Land erosion and decreased rainfall are two immediate problems. But economic insecurity that has resulted from loss of agriculture is thought to have facilitated a rise in extremism, particularly in West Africa.
Baker’s ideas were sidelined until 2007, when the African Union adopted the project hoping it might solve some of the socio-economic problems currently faced by the Sub-Saharan nations. Recently, the ‘Great Green Wall’ initiative received a further $4bn of funding from the COP21 UN climate change summit in December.
And so far progress, though not initially exuberant, has been steady.
The project has extended to include an additional 11 countries, bringing the total up to 22 nations. 15 per cent of the trees had been planted by May of this year; 20,000 jobs have been created in Nigeria; and 15 million hectares of land have been reclaimed in Ethiopia.
Dr Dlamini Zuma, chairwoman of the African Union Commission hopes it will become a 21st century wonder of the world: “There are many world wonders, but the Great Green Wall will be unique and everyone can be a part of its history.”
Leaders of the project hope this Great Wall can have the same longevity and historical significance as its Chinese counterpart.